Until this week, Botswana, and particularly its unique and lush inland river delta, the Okavango Delta, was considered a haven for African wildlife. But this changed when a routine aerial survey uncovered an elephant massacre.
The bodies of 87 elephants, most with their tusks chopped off, were discovered by a non-governmental organisation, Elephants without Borders, which was conducting a routine elephant census along the Botswana border.
According to reports, some of the elephant carcasses had begun to decay, their skins dried stiff over bony carcasses, but others appeared to have been freshly killed and partially covered by bushes in an attempt to hide them from view.
According to the BBC Botswana has had an unforgiving approach to poachers and had largely escaped the elephant losses seen elsewhere in Africa.
Despite a lack of fences on the international border, data from tracking collars showed elephants retreating from Angola, Namibia and Zambia and deciding to stay within the boundaries of Botswana where it was thought to be safe.
Incidents of poaching in the country were rare because of armed and well-managed anti-poaching units.
The first sign that this scenario was changing came two years ago when elephant carcasses were found with their tusks removed close to the Namibian border. But the recent discovery of 87 carcasses occurred deep in Botswana – close to the protected Okavango Delta which attracts tourists from around the world.
Commentators have pointed to the disarmament of Botswana’s anti-poaching unit as a cause for the increase in elephant poaching.
“Whatever the underlying causes of this poaching spree, we are devastated to hear the news that Botswana, which was seemingly immune to the killing of elephants and rhinos that is taking place all over Africa, has suffered the terrible loss of nearly 90 elephants,” said David Barritt, campaign director for Network for Animals.
“This news is particularly poignant in view of the fact that NFA and its supporters so recently helped to secure the future of a whole family of elephants in nearby South Africa. However, we are not disheartened. With the help of our supporters we will continue to work hard to ensure the survival of elephants and other wild animals in Africa.”